Maclean’s asked scholars from across Canada to predict what life will be like for the next generation. Their future scenarios ranged from a possible decline in Japan’s economic power on the world stage to a movement away from large cities to smaller communities within Canada. The report:
Half a century from now, the world is likely to have been marked by dramatic shifts in global power and the emergence of a new world order in which affluent northern nations may be forced to share their wealth with the have-not countries of the Southern Hemisphere. Forecasters predict that the world of the next century will be one in which information, investment capital, technology and people will flow more freely across national borders. They also say that within the next few decades the tension between capitalism and socialism that dominated the political life of the 20th century will probably have dissipated, as the flaws in both systems become more apparent. Increasingly in the 21st century, the world may have to find ways of coping with a rapidly expanding human population, poverty, the stresses produced by the growth of the world’s mega-cities and the
consequence of global warming brought on by the greenhouse effect.
As well, the leaders of the next century may well have to deal with less predictable events. Arthur Hanson, a professor of environmental studies at Halifax’s Dalhousie University, expressed concern that political or religious fanatics in the future may be able to obtain portable nuclear weapons or deadly chemical weapons. Such a development, said Hanson, could lead to “some heinous acts of terrorism before the middle of the next century— even on our own doorstep.”
Experts predicted that Canada, with its wealth of natural resources, would likely remain an island of privilege and relative comfort in the next century. But they added that there may be increasing pressures on Canada’s living space and resources as the world’s population tops six billion.
Various academic experts said that, to offset a declining birthrate in Canada, there
likely will be continuing heavy immigration from Third World nations. That would make Canada an increasingly multiracial and multicultural nation, with a population that could double to more than 50 million by the year 2050. But experts say that the growth and changing nature of Canada’s population may result in unprecedented competition for jobs and housing as well as increased racial tensions. Said University of Saskatchewan political scientist John Courtney: “A more ethnically, racially mixed society may create increased pressures. Added Courtney: “If you’ve got illegal people coming in, you’re going to see a hardening of social attitudes.”
Fiefdoms: On the political front, some experts suggested that Canada may be dramatically different if Ottawa’s controversial Meech Lake accord, with its strong decentralizing thrust, becomes part of the Canadian Constitution. Said historian J. L. Qack) Granatstein of Toronto’s
York University: “I can see the provinces as independent states linked only in the loosest possible way to the federal government.” York sociologist Gregory Nielsen suggested that Canada may become “a collection of fiefdoms,” with such regions as the Maritimes pursuing “their own cultural determination” and even seeking independent status.
As well, some experts predicted that Quebec, because of immigration patterns and the province's low birthrate, is likely to have difficulty in the future maintaining its status as a francophone bastion. “Time is running out very quickly,” said Nielsen. "Quebec’s language is the only thing that protects its culture from Americanization.” Marc Termote, a demographer with Montreal’s Institut national de la recherche scientifique, says that the percentage of nonfrancophones in Quebec’s largest city is only going to grow. He added: “Even now, there are more births among nonfrancophones than francophones. If you add immigrants, who are mostly anglophone, the proportion will be even greater.”
Some of the experts interviewed by Maclean’s had strikingly different views on some aspects of the future.
Michael Walker, director of the conservative Vancouver-based Fraser Institute, said that there is a widespread assumption that electronic communications and an increasingly international economy are making the human community more interdependent. But Walker does not agree. He predicts that the world of the 21st century will increasingly be marked by “tribal forces,” or groupings with similar interests. He suggests that in the future a unified European Community could become a “trade fortress.” But he also forecast that, although North Americans will face rising competition from the Orient and from Europe, they will remain “the most affluent tribe.”
Sharing: Desmond Morton, a historian who is principal of Erindale College at the University of Toronto, disagreed, arguing instead that increased interdependence among nations would “bring the world’s despair closer” and force rich nations to help the have-nots. According to Morton, the primary business of a crowded world in the next century will be “sharing the limited resources of a finite planet.” As well, Morton said that, although “Marxism may have failed, the other vision, capitalism, may have failed too.” He predicted that in the future there will be “a search for an ethical counterweight” to the “free play of market forces.” Declared Morton: “Greed, in the end, doesn’t work very well.”
Some experts predicted that the role of Japan, the economic wonder child of the late 20th century, may diminish. The Fraser Institute’s Walker said Japan’s rigid hierarchical social structures and limited respect for the individual will eventually bring about a decline in the country’s prosperity. Denis Stairs, a
Dalhousie University expert on international affairs, agreed that Japan’s power and influence might diminish in the next century. Said Stairs: “I wouldn’t bet on Japan. It’s living on its wits. Their wages are going up, and with that process they lose their labor cost advantage.” Forces: Other experts predicted the emergence of newly powerful nations—and trading blocs—on the international stage. “The world’s circumstances will change,” said Duncan McDowall, a business historian at Ottawa’s Car letón University. McDowall predicted that several of the newly industrialized countries, including South Korea and Brazil, will become major forces on the world stage because they offer lower wages even while becoming more efficient and organized.
Some experts predicted that the power of the United States would decline—and forecast serious internal convulsions for the Soviet Union. Said Dalhousie’s Stairs: “Clearly, the world is not going to be dominated by two major superpowers.” For her part, Harriet Critchley, director of the strategic studies program at the University of Calgary, predicted that the United States faces a period of decline, although it will “still have great influence.” Critchley and others, however, say that there will be increased turmoil in the Soviet Union caused by mounting pressure for independence from growing Asian and Islamic populations. Added Marie-Josée Drouin, executive director of the Montreal-based Hudson Institute of Canada: “The Soviet Union will no longer be White Russia.”
Some experts also expressed the belief that
the growth of Islamic fundamentalism may also represent a threat to the world at large. Dalhousie’s Stairs said that Islamic fundamentalism, which rejects the Western scientific view of man, may be prevented by its very nature from “being accommodated to the engines of the modem world.” As a result, some Islamic groups may suffer from alienation and turn to extreme forms of terrorism. Some Third World groups, said Fergus Watt, executive director of the World Federalists of Canada, may see themselves as “so disenfranchised that they have nothing left to lose. This could be a wild card. We haven’t come to terms with the possibility of a terrorist nuclear bomb, or the poor man’s bomb—chemical warfare.”
At the same time, David Lavigne, a biologist at the University of Guelph in Ontario, warned of the potential dangers posed by an environment that is now in open rebellion against man’s encroachments on it. Lavigne points to the possibility of global warming, a condition that has been widely forecast as a result of the so-called greenhouse effect, and which is caused by the increased concentration of carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere. Lavigne said that, if global warming occurs, polar ice caps would melt and sea levels would rise, leading to “devastating effects” on fisheries and on the habitats for animal and human life on the planet. “The world’s in pretty bad shape,” said Lavigne. “We have to change our world view.”
The next century is likely to bring major changes to Canadian society, the population mix and settlement patterns. Saskatchewan’s Courtney said, “The picture for the small town and the quarter-section family farm is not a rosy one.” He suggested that the country’s population will continue to be concentrated in three major metropolitan areas—Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. In contrast, York’s Granatstein predicted “a movement back to smaller communities” because of rising crime, pollution and housing costs in the big cities. Said Granatstein: “I’ll have to give my daughter my house in Toronto because she won’t be able to afford one. And I’ll move to somewhere north of Kingston.”
Canadians in the 21st century are likely to continue to be “incredibly privileged,” said Dalhousie University’s Hanson. But he also questioned how long Canadians will be able to keep their privileged status. Widespread poverty in the nations of the Southern Hemisphere, the effects of environmental degradation and shortages of resources, said Hanson, “may force us to share it.” In the future, said Hanson, the pressure of Third World poverty and growing economic disparities between the Northern and Southern hemispheres will create pressure for that kind of sharing. In such crucial areas as North-South co-operation, the disposal of toxic wastes and the protection of the environment, said Hanson, the question is whether “we will be applauded by our grandchildren” for decisions being made now, which ultimately will shape the world of the future.
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